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Henking Elementary Closes The Learning Gap

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Henking Elementary Closes The Learning Gap

Henking Elementary Closes The Learning Gap

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  • 1. Making the Case for Quality Henking Elementary Closes the Learning Gap by Janet Jacobsen Henking Elementary School’s principal, Pam Cullotta, wrote the following to parents at her suburban Chicago school: We can no longer expect children to simply acquire the skills and knowledge that they need to deal with life, since we have little idea what their lives will be by the time they reach adulthood . . . . Skills of problem solving, process, and analysis will be more critical to their learning than any single body of information that they may access in school. For students to grow and learn, they must be able to plan their own learning, take steps to improve it, evaluate the outcomes, and make changes that are appropriate to improvement. Little did the students, and probably the majority of parents, realize that this process of planning, improving, evaluating, and changing is the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle popularized by organiza- tional theorist W. Edwards Deming. Under Cullotta’s leadership, the school continues to find success in using the PDSA cycle to make improvements in a wide variety of areas, from boosting writing and At a Glance . . . vocabulary test scores to reducing the noise and confusion in the school’s crowded hallways. About Louise N. Henking Elementary School • Henking Elementary School has successfully used its Koalaty Kid program and Located in Glenview, Illinois, a suburban village north of Chicago, Henking Elementary is home to the plan-do-study-act cycle approximately 500 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade for the 2005-06 school year. to improve student writing Enrollment is down significantly from the 650 students who attended Henking before all third-grade scores significantly over the students were moved to another nearby school in 2004. The school continues to face the challenge of course of one school year. educating an increasing number of students who come from homes where English is the second • Other improvements have language (ESL)—in fact, the diverse school population includes children from 22 countries. occurred in assessing the effectiveness of teaching While Henking students traditionally score very well overall in standardized tests, Cullotta knew when strategies and in reducing she became principal in 1998 that her staff could help students close any achievement gaps and improve hallway noise. the learning environment through the use of Koalaty Kid processes and tools. • Emphasis on data, student accountability for and own- What is Koalaty Kid? ership of improvement, and the everyday use of quality • A schoolwide system for continuous improvement funded through the American Society for Quality processes contribute to the (ASQ) school’s ongoing success. • A program that involves the rigorous application of Total Quality principles and tools for school improvement objectives The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 1 of 4
  • 2. Key Benefits of Koalaty Kid writing specialist worked with the teachers to develop a writing process that included timelines, skill sets, and activity sheets. The writing tools were used in the classroom and modified as needed. • Long-term continuous improvement • Flexible for all improvement efforts • Focus on school’s own objectives The second year of Henking’s writing improvement plan began • Student-centered with writing pre-assessments that tested all the skills identified • Lifelong skills in year one. After the test scores were tallied teachers could work with small groups of students to address specific skills. While the process of pre- and post-testing itself is common in Cullotta patiently introduced her ideas and experiences with schools, the quality approach Henking (as well as other schools quality processes to Henking staff during her first few years at like it) uses involves student participation and ultimately makes the school and focused much of her discussions on the reasons the student accountable for his or her own learning. for collecting data. “I kept bringing back the idea that the more data you have, the more it should drive how we can improve instruction to improve success for the children,” she explains. Figure 1 Koalaty Kid: PDSA Process In time, her persistence paid off and the staff enrolled in training Plan specific to the education sector: an intensive six-day, in-house Define continuous the class that took place over the course of several months with the improvement system entire staff working on a specific project while going through training. In this initial stage, the school focused on projects Standardize improvement relating to behavioral matters, including lunchroom behavior, ACT Assess office referrals, and bus lineup. These types of quality projects current PLAN STUDY situation are often studied and implemented first because they are rela- Study DO the tively easy to set up, provide an opportunity for staff to become results comfortable using the tools and process of continuous improve- Try out ment, and typically produce immediate results. Analyze improvement cause theory Henking’s Quality Journey—Building Up Writing and Vocabulary While Lowering Hallway Noise Student Accountability Entering the 2002-03 school year with a plan to improve students’ writing skills, the Henking staff set into action a Visitors to any classroom at Henking will notice a posted continuous improvement process, PDSA, to ensure their plan’s mission statement created by the students in that class. This success (see Figure 1). Understanding that this was a complex statement guides the students throughout the year and serves as plan with far-reaching applications, the staff outlined a two-year a road map to growth and achievement. For example, a second- process and developed the goals listed below: grade classroom’s mission statement reads, “We will learn to read, write, and do cursive, math, and science and exercise our Writing Goals, 2002-03: minds to have fun and to accomplish our goals for third grade.” • Identify areas of need using test data, teacher input, and In addition to developing classroom mission statements, students student input establish both classroom and personal goals, with each student • Begin professional development with each team assessing his or her goals on a weekly basis. The children keep a • Develop improvement theory portfolio of accomplishments that they can share during parent- • Share strategies among teams teacher conferences. The emphasis is always on continuous • Communicate with parents improvement. If a student is asked at any time during the school Writing Goals, 2003-04: year how he or she is doing compared to the goal, the child can answer confidently. And, perhaps most important, the student • Implement improvement theory and revise writing resource can describe what measure will be used next to ensure that his binder as needed or her goals are met. • Work with students to assess their growth in writing • Implement assessments to measure student growth At the end of the school year the students will assess how well • Continue to communicate with parents they’ve done, if they are ready to move to the next grade level, • Standardize improvements and whether they’ve developed the skills necessary to be successful. “As the children utilize the tools and process of In the plan’s first year, staff members gathered data on current Koalaty Kid, the tools become a part of them, the same way that test scores to determine what was happening in the classrooms, learning to read becomes part of them. They will begin to think where students were in their learning, and where the opportuni- in a different way about solving problems and assessing their ties for improvement lay. During this data-gathering period, a improvement,” Cullotta says. The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 2 of 4
  • 3. Cullotta describes the improvements at Henking as “significant, Quieting the Hallways Through Rules of the Road especially for ESL students.” As Figure 2 shows, the mean score for all second graders taking in-house writing assessment tests While the Henking staff focused on improving writing and improved by 2.7 points from the beginning to the end of the vocabulary skills, the student council tackled its own improve- school year, and the median score improved by 3 points. For ESL ment project—quieting the hallways and making them a safer second graders, the mean and median scores improved by 2.8 place. Prior to the relocation of all third graders to another and 2.5 points, respectively. Since the writing process certainly school, nearly 700 students were housed in this facility designed improved, the staff standardized the process and still uses it today. for 450, which forced many students to do schoolwork in the hallways. Figure 2 Second-Grade Writing Assessment 2004, Pre- and Post-Assessment Data Student council members secretly collected data on noise levels, “traffic patterns,” and even human collisions in the hallways. All Second Grade Using the PDSA cycle and quality tools such as the fishbone diagram in Figure 3, student council members and their advisor Fall Spring Growth set out to make improvements. 8.09 10.79 2.7 Mean 8.00 11.00 3.0 Median 1.92 1.97 Standard Deviation Figure 3 Hallway Fishbone ESL Students TALKING Fall Spring Growth Next to friend 6.74 9.54 2.8 Mean Everyone else is talking 7.00 9.50 2.5 Median Teacher can’t see Noise in 2.09 1.79 Standard Deviation Halls Another line cuts in People at end must run to catch up Moving On to Vocabulary Front goes too fast Late for fine arts People are not The staff was not complacent after achieving gains in the writing paying attention process; instead, they shifted their focus toward improving WALKING vocabulary—a skill that translates into greater reading fluency and comprehension. Each grade-level team of teachers designed a bank of vocabulary words that they would teach by using two Cullotta reports that students were shocked when they first saw identified teaching strategies at various points during the school the data collected about how difficult it was to work in the hall year. Students were given both a pre- and a post-assessment on because of the behaviors they identified. Using the data, they the vocabulary words. developed “rules of the road,” complete with stop signs posted at strategic points throughout the building. Interestingly, some In the 2004-05 school year the assessments showed that one partic- visiting parents asked what had changed because the hallways ular strategy involving more noncognitive types of activities such as seemed so much quieter. “It makes such a difference when the modeling and dramatization worked very well for the English- children are involved and it’s their process,” observes Cullotta. speaking population and helped them improve in the number of words they understood, recognized, and could define. For ESL Henking’s Continuing Commitment to Quality students the traditional cognitive methods were more effective. After experiencing the success of the Koalaty Kid process at “That was interesting—something we hadn’t anticipated. We Henking, Cullotta urges other principals to adopt similar initia- thought both groups of students would do well with the nontradi- tives and advises them to ensure that teachers truly understand tional teaching method, so it showed us that we needed to do some that quality processes exist not to judge them, but to help evolve, differentiation in the ways in which it was being taught or that we change, and better the curriculum and teaching methods. needed to combine the types of strategies,” Cullotta reports. Although she regrets not having more time and influence to spread the Koalaty Kid program throughout the school district, Now in the 2005-06 school year, teachers are using a second Cullotta is proud of the staff consistency, cooperation, and bank of vocabulary words and have combined their teaching professionalism that have resulted. strategies to include both noncognitive and traditional cognitive methods. At the conclusion of the school year, teachers will While students, staff, and parents will miss Cullotta’s leadership administer another post-assessment and will compare the results when she retires as principal at the end of the 2005-06 school of the two teaching methods with the ultimate goal of standard- year, several signs point to the sustaining influence of the izing the strategies that work best for Henking students. Koalaty Kid program at Henking. Cullotta reports that many The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 3 of 4
  • 4. For More Information parents have adopted the quality tools learned at school for use at home to help their children with improving homework, chores, or extracurricular activities. Henking staff members now routinely • Learn more about Henking Elementary School and its quality apply quality processes in the classroom. “The teachers have journey by visiting the school’s Web site at www.glen- integrated the process so it’s not a stand-alone program; they view34.org/he/ or by sending an e-mail to Pam Cullotta at follow the quality process without even realizing it because it has cullotta43@aol.com. become second nature to them,” Cullotta notes. • Visit the Koalaty Kid Web site at www.asq.org/edu/kkid for more information about this approach to education that It’s this everyday use of quality processes that will indeed allow stresses both the spirit and substance of quality. staff and students to continue their quest to close any future About the Author learning gaps and further improve the learning environment at Henking Elementary School. Janet Jacobsen is a freelance writer specializing in quality and compliance topics. A graduate of Drake University, she resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 4 of 4